4. Energy Coping Strategies for Low-Income Households
How people in rural areas cope in times of energy crises is an issue of concern and can no longer be ignored. Energy poverty is part of life in rural areas. Energy poverty, in the case of this study, refers to inadequate supply of energy resources, which in turn will be insufficient to match the corresponding human energy demand. In terms of cost, energy poverty refers to a situation where people cannot afford to consume modern and relatively more expensive renewable energy sources [30
]. Energy poverty in rural areas does not happen in isolation. It is an aspect of existing income, social and access inequalities. For instance, energy poverty mainly affects low-income households, which spend a significant portion of their income on energy.
Income poverty, geographic barriers, rural–urban discriminatory policies and unwillingness to pay leave households vulnerable to severe energy hardships. In Sub-Saharan Africa, about 600 million people in rural areas lack access to energy [31
]. Most of the people in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania still use kerosene (Harrison et al., 2016), and in South Africa, about 75% of households are deprived of electricity [33
]. Presently, about 80% of the rural population in South Africa is connected to electricity. However, rural low-income households are struggling abysmally to meet their energy needs. Non-electrified households depend on unclean sources of energy. Some households connected to electricity, especially low-income households, depend on government-provided electricity since they cannot afford electricity. When that energy has been used, poor households look for unclean sources of energy such as firewood. Indigent energy policy is whereby the government gives low-income households a free 50 kWh of electricity to fight energy poverty. Despite the fact that 80% of the population in rural areas are connected to the grid, low-income households still face the challenge of renewable energy access since they still use a larger amount of unclean, unhealthy and dangerous sources of energy such as paraffin, firewood and cow dung [34
]. There is great inequality regarding renewable energy access in rural areas. Access to sustainable modern energy technologies is essential for promoting health, quality education and sustainable livelihoods—yet millions of people have no access to sustainable energy technologies which leaves them with the option of using dangerous and unhealthy fuels for lighting and cooking. In order to save their income, low-income households in rural areas opt for readily available sources of energy such as cow dung and firewood [35
Despite the presence of different energy technologies in South Africa, rural households continue to struggle to meet their energy demands. For several years, some rural areas have struggled with inadequate national grid coverage and poor electricity supply. The government has made many efforts towards grid connection in the Eastern Cape. However, in electrified places, because of poverty, people are not able to pay, which shows that energy poverty makes access to electricity unreliable. Rural areas in the Eastern Cape rank extra very low in terms of renewable energy access despite enormous energy resources such as wind, solar, biomass and micro-hydrokinetic energy sources.
Energy coping strategies include the use of electricity and the use of firewood as a backup. Households can insure themselves by looking for bulk firewood in summer, which they deplete in the rainy season and winter. Alternatively, some households use illegal connections to the main grid in case of hardship. Energy coping strategies refer to what people use when experiencing energy crises.
Firewood is mostly used in the Eastern Cape in areas not connected to the grid and in poor households which cannot afford to supplement the free basic electricity. The other reason for the use of firewood in rural areas of the Eastern Cape is the availability of woodlands and affordability. Firewood is used for cooking and heating during winter due to the high costs of electric heaters.
The Eastern Cape is the third province with a huge number of households using firewood for cooking as indicated in Figure 5
, Limpopo has the highest number of households using firewood at 32.9% followed by Mpumalanga with a percentage of 21.0%, Eastern Cape 9.0% and KwaZulu-Natal 8.7%. The Western Cape and Gauteng provinces have the lowest percentage of households using firewood, as indicated by less than one percent of households using firewood for cooking (0.2% and 0.6%), respectively [36
shows the number of consumer units receiving basic electricity in the Eastern Cape compared to other provinces in South Africa,
The Eastern Cape is among the poorest provinces in South Africa. It is among the provinces that receive the highest number of units of basic electricity services at 303,753, and 21.7% of the proportion benefitting, which is higher than Kwazulu Natal at 15.8; North West at 10.4; Mpumalanga at 8.1 and Limpopo at 5.5. Free basic electricity is received by poor households which receive 50 kWh of electricity free per household per month.
summarises the considerable contributions made by the government to indigent households in the Eastern Cape in the form of free basic alternative energy, namely candles, paraffin gas and solar energy, to combat energy poverty among poor households.
A free basic alternative is non-grid electricity free electricity given to low-income households in areas not yet connected to the grid or to mountainous, remote and sparsely populated areas for which it would be uneconomical to connect to the grid. It is important to note that not all low-income households receive free basic alternative energy because of budget constraints of certain municipalities. Although the government has demonstrated commendable commitment, some of the interventions, however, have loopholes because some municipalities are providing the indigent households with non-renewable sources for example, 24,680 households in the Eastern Cape were provided with paraffin. Using traditional kerosene lights may be detrimental to health and the property because it may result in the burning of houses if not properly monitored. In 2020, 625 candles were provided to indigent households and 4320 households were provided with Liquefied petroleum gas. Although liquefied petroleum gas is a cleaner source of energy, it is a non-renewable source of energy. The South African government made efforts to combat energy poverty in the Eastern Cape however, there remains a great need to focus on renewable energy sources and to tackle the root causes of energy poverty with sustainable solutions. In many instances, energy poverty is an outward manifestation of income poverty. The energy ladder in Figure 6
indicates that income determines the type of energy households use.
The energy ladder in Figure 6
was used to illustrate the energy status of the Eastern Cape, starting with the most traditional to the most advanced technology. At the bottom of the ladder is crop waste, dung, wood, charcoal and kerosene, which the poorest households in the Eastern Cape mainly use. However, dung is rarely used in the Eastern Cape because there is plenty of wood. Poor households also use electricity, mainly government-provided electricity. They supplement the free energy with the sources that are at the bottom of the ladder to save costs. Middle-income households use ethanol, gas, liquefied gas, natural gas and electricity. High-income households use electricity as in times of load shedding. The choice of energy type is determined by the amount of income which the household has [38
]. In areas without grid connection, kerosene, firewood and candles are used in poor households, whilst solar PV modules and diesel/petrol generators are used by middle- and high-income households.
For indigent households, there are few options for energy choices as they continue to be dependent on the government. Due to inadequate government support, poor households supplement government energy support with cheaper sources of energy, most of which are detrimental to health. Although adopting renewable energy technology is essential, the ongoing use of non-renewable energy technologies in indigent households is largely driven by income poverty. Poor people generally do not turn to non-renewable energy sources willingly, but they tend to do so in the absence of income to install renewable energy technologies. A closer look at the energy situation in the rural areas in the Eastern Cape reveals that undeniable efforts have been made by the South African government; however, there is a great need for innovation in the energy sector to significantly reduce energy poverty in rural areas [39
People in rural areas use firewood for cooking due to the availability of forests; however, it was found that the use of a solar oven for about 6–8 months a year will save about 16.8 million tons of firewood and will reduce emissions by 38.4 million tons of carbon dioxide per year [40
]. This would also reduce diseases such as lung cancer and premature death which are associated with the use of firewood. At the same time, living in energy-poor households without enough warmth may result in diseases such as asthma, stroke and heart diseases [41
]. The challenge of biomass traditional cooking stoves is that they release carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide, methane and black carbon, which cause climate change. Improved cooking stoves save trees, reduce emissions of air pollutants and save time [42